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Archive for the ‘Manuscripts’ Category

My latest addiction is TheJigsawPuzzles.com. As a child I enjoyed working jigsaw puzzles with my mom and grandmother, but with an active family and 5 cats I’ve never had a safe spot to lay out the pieces of a traditional puzzle in my own home. Problem solved! With virtual puzzles, I don’t have to worry about losing pieces or keeping tiny feet from destroying hours of work. And puzzles can be a lot of work.

Putting together jigsaw puzzles may seem a wasteful use of time to some people but it has helped me get a clearer focus on my writing goals. Here are 4 analogies I’ve noted regarding jigsaw puzzles and effective writing techniques.

 

1. Working on a project I truly enjoy makes it easier to get through the difficult parts.

Whether it’s a puzzle or a story/article, if I’m not interested in the subject matter and hit a rough patch, it’s tempting to quit. External motivations such as money or praise from others may help, but the internal satisfaction I get from doing something I enjoy is often the primary factor in achieving my goals

 

2. Having a clear idea of the big picture helps tremendously.

I choose puzzles that fit my mood, and sometimes they involve lots of colors and unfamiliar subject matter. Having a picture of the completed puzzle to refer to as I work helps me organize the pieces and determine their approximate placement when I get stuck. The same holds true with my writing. I’m not a strict outliner, but knowing the basic story and key plot points or talking points helps me stay focused on the end result.

 

3. Breaking the project down into smaller components keeps it from being overwhelming and provides structure for areas that may be ill-defined.

The larger the puzzle the harder it feels, but there are ways to make things more manageable. Putting together the outside pieces first is very helpful, providing a framework and a place to start building connections as well as reducing the number of loose pieces I have to deal with. It hints at what goes in each area, so when I’m sorting through the remaining pieces I have a general idea of where they may belong.

When an idea or scene doesn’t seem to fit what I’m currently working on, setting it aside until the writing project is further along may help clarify where it should go. In the same way, formulating the beginning and end of a chapter, scene, or paragraph helps determine what is needed in the middle.

 

4. Knowing the basics of how things work and customizing the process to fit my needs increases the likelihood of achieving my goals.

Each puzzle site I’ve visited operates in a slightly different way, and it took a while to learn how to navigate them comfortably. The online site I like best lets me see a picture of the complete puzzle as I work, has a button that lets me automatically separate the edge pieces from the others, has a timer I can use to pace myself, and lets me choose how many pieces I want the puzzle to contain and the style of the cuts. By customizing a puzzle to fit my interests and abilities I don’t get overwhelmed with something I’m not capable of handling. With practice, my skills improve and I’m able to take on more complex puzzles. I’ve also learned how to upload my own pictures and turn them into custom puzzles to share with friends.

The process of becoming a successful writer requires an understanding of how the writing and publishing process works, and also requires some customization to meet our individual needs.  Each of us has different experiences and skills, so our roadmaps to success may follow different routes.  Being aware of our strengths and weaknesses can help us figure out where we need additional help to achieve our goals, and we can work on those areas first in order to maximize our chance of success. When writing, knowing where to look for help with grammar issues, being aware of the proper format for the type of writing we are doing, and understanding how to use the basic features of our word processing program will make writing projects less stressful and more professional in appearance. Understanding how agents and editors expect us to submit our work to them, and following their guidelines, will give our submissions an advantage over our less-knowledgeable competitors.

 

 

Do you enjoy working jigsaw puzzles? What is your favorite way to “waste” time? What writing resources do you recommend for people who might be struggling down the road to success?

 

 

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Sometimes I get so caught up in the details of a particular scene, or involved with developing one character, that I lose sight of the big picture.

Losing My Perspective

This is especially frustrating when writing the first draft since events later on may change portions of what I’ve already written. It’s tempting to go back and revise earlier chapters or scenes to take into account things that happen later, but in most cases this isn’t the best approach for a first draft. You can lose momentum, or you may come up with an idea you like better later down the line–meaning you have to revise the beginning yet again. One way to minimize this problem is to put off the editing process until the entire story is down on paper.

Get the bare bones of the story down before you start editing, then set it aside for a while. When you go back to it, you’ll be able to read it more objectively and clearly see errors or plot holes in what you’ve written. Knowing how everything fits together will help you layer in details, foreshadow events, leave clues, develop subplots, and clarify what’s going on.

 

 

The Big Picture

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Do you wait until the first draft is complete to make major revisions, or revise as you go? How do you keep track of things that you change later in the story, such as details about the backstory, or name changes? At what point do you start checking the grammar and punctuation?

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If you’re planning to give a pitch to an agent or editor at a conference, you may want to take a one sheet, or pitch sheet, with you. Some resources use these terms interchangeably, but some say a one sheet covers all of your work while a pitch sheet is designed to help you present just one book or series. Regardless of the term, a one page summary comes in handy when you get a chance to present your work.

In addition to your full contact information, this page should include a professional-quality photo of yourself, and an author bio. Also write a short blurb about the book or series you’re pitching. Make it enticing, like the short summaries you see on the back cover of books in a store.

These sheets should showcase you and your work. Although you should use white paper and black text, it’s acceptable to use photos and some simple graphic design elements, including colored ink, but don’t let those features overpower the story. A template for a flyer or newsletter may help you get the look you want.

If you’re more comfortable with a simple document, go with that rather than trying to create something fancy. Their purpose is to give you one more tool to use in your effort to entice an agent or editor to ask to see more of your work, and an amateurish one sheet will probably not do that.

Author Kaye Dacus goes into more detail than I have, and also give examples:

http://kayedacus.com/2007/08/28/beyond-the-first-draft%E2%80%94the-pitch-sheet-and-one-sheet/

Another helpful reference is by Tracy Ruckman:

http://www.tracyruckman.com/downloads/One%20Sheets.pdf

Amy Wallace has an example that includes different books:

http://www.amywallace.com/pdfs/One_Sheet_Sample.pdf

Although I’ve seen one sheets recommended on several agents’ blogs, they seem to be optional. 

EDIT AUGUST 9, 2011: Agent Rachelle Gardner discusses one sheets on her blog today, and has links to several excellent examples her clients submitted. 

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Have you ever prepared a one sheet/pitch sheet? What’s the first thing you’d say to an agent if you were going to pitch something to them? What would you talk about with a conference faculty member who wasn’t an agent or editor if you were given the opportunity of a one-on-one meeting?

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My daughter is vacationing in New York this week. Yesterday she called to tell me what a wonderful time she’s having. When I asked what she liked best so far, she replied: “We can walk everywhere! It’s only a few blocks to anywhere you want to go, and the buildings are so close together that we already walked to 7 different stores. We can even walk to the beach.”

Today she called to tell me they were waiting for a glimpse of the President, who was supposed to land in a helicopter close to where they were standing. They’d walked to Chinatown, Wall Street, and Times Square already this morning, and planned to walk to several more sites before heading back to her friend’s house. She said she was tired of walking, and everything was too crowded. There were buildings everywhere!

Funny how the things she found exciting yesterday were the same things she was tired of today. Too much of a good thing, I guess.

In writing, we can have too much of a good thing too. A fast-paced thriller with no time for the reader to pause and absorb what’s going on can become monotonous. Too much narrative can slow down the pace so much that readers become bored. Too many pointless scenes can leave a reader wondering what the story is about.

Finding the right balance for all the story elements can be difficult, and that balance will vary with different genres. However, when we eliminate everything that doesn’t move the story forward, or doesn’t give a better understanding of the characters, theme, and setting, we’ll have the best chance of keeping readers turning the pages with the same enthusiasm they had when they started.

 

too much vacation

What type of things cause you to lose interest in a book even though you enjoyed the first few chapters? What have you seen too much of in the books you’ve read lately? Are there certain genres or subjects that you’ve grown tired of reading about? What books can you think of that held your interest from start to finish, and what made them so good?

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After completing your rough draft and revising it until you’re satisfied with the basic structure and content, it’s time to start polishing it for submission.

At this stage you may want to get someone else’s input on your work. Some people have critique partners look over their manuscripts, but even readers who aren’t writers can offer useful insights into problems with clarity, pacing, characterization, or awkward sentences.

This is also the time to review your manuscript for:

1. Errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Don’t rely on the spell check function of your word processor as it isn’t always right. Words that sound the same but are spelled differently (homophones) are easy to overlook when editing.

Make sure you’re following the appropriate style guide for the publisher you’re targeting. Agent Rachelle Gardner suggests making an Editorial Style Sheet to help keep track of pertinent details that an editor will want to know about your manuscript.

http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2010/07/keeping-track-of-details.html

2. Smooth transitions between paragraphs and scenes.

Make sure your point of view changes are clearly indicated.

Try to have a cliffhanger or unanswered question at the end of each chapter to entice people to keep reading.

3. Correct format and headers.

Using the proper manuscript format is essential to make your writing look professional. In the absence of specific guidelines, use a standard format: double spacing for hard copies, 1 inch margins, black Courier or Times New Roman 12 point font, headers with last name, title, and page number. Don’t forget a cover page. (See my post on manuscript formatting.)

Each manuscript will have special needs. There are many resources available on line and in books to help you figure out what’s best for yours. Many people also pay free-lance editors, or book doctors, to help them get their work ready to submit. If you decide to hire an editor, be sure to check their background and references before entering into a contract with them.

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What are the final steps you take to prepare your manuscript for submission to an agent or editor? Do you have any tips to share about revising or polishing a manuscript? What type of feedback do you ask for from friends, family, or critique partners?

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I’m back with the second post in my series on revising manuscripts. There are lots of books and online sites that go into greater depth, but these are some ideas I use as general guidelines for my revision process.

1. After you finish the first draft of your manuscript, it’s best to set it aside for a few days, weeks, or months so you can tackle the revisions with a clear mind. When you begin the task of editing, I suggest that you read the whole thing from beginning to end before making major changes in order to give you a sense of how the story fits together. It will help you identify problem areas and notice inconsistencies.

2. By the time you’ve finished the first draft, you should know what the book is about (plot), and the idea you want the reader to take away from reading it (theme). You’ll need to give that information to an agent or editor anyway, so write it down before you start making changes. Use it as a guide to help decide what needs to be cut, or added, to your story.

3. Know what market you’re writing for so you can make sure the manuscript will meet any special requirements for word count or content. For example, if your rough draft is 150,000 words and you’re writing a genre romance, you know you have a lot of cutting to do. If it’s only 30,000 words, you’ll need to add thousands more.

4. Go through the rough draft and jot down a few sentences about each chapter. This will help you make sure the scenes and chapters are organized the way you want them, and you’ll see where you need to make changes. These notes will also be helpful when you write your synopsis.

5. Make sure all story threads are tied up in a way that fits the story. Add layers of backstory, characterization, and action that will give depth to the plot and clarify what’s going on. Remove any scenes that are confusing or don’t serve a valid purpose.

6. Be sure that you’ve been consistent when describing physical attributes; actions are appropriate for each character’s personality; and the dialog is fitting for the person’s age and educational background, as well as the time period and setting.

Some people will rewrite their story several times while others may only write a couple of drafts. The number of revisions isn’t as important as the quality of them. No story will be perfect—someone will always find something to criticize about it. Do the best you can with your revisions, ask someone you trust to take a look at it, and then polish your manuscript before sending it out.

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Do you have any tips for revising a manuscript? What method of keeping track of what needs to be changed do you use as you review your writing, or do you change everything as soon as you notice something doesn’t sound the way you want?   Do you use a different process when writing nonfiction? How many drafts do you usually write of  a short story, or a novel?

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I was going to write a post on revising manuscripts today, but instead I spent most of the morning ordering food from the menu of a local sports-themed restaurant. My daughter got a job as a waitress there and she can’t start getting paid tips until she has memorized the menu and finished the training program. The entire family has been recruited as practice customers. Thankfully, the food is pretend and so is the bill, or we’d be stuffed and broke.

There are several things she repeated so many times that I’ve memorized them, too. Some of them reminded me of writing:

1. I will never forget that my daughter’s/waitress’ name is Lisa. She greeted me with that opener for every practice meal I ordered.

Repeating the same thing can be very annoying, and most people only need to hear something once or twice to catch your meaning.

2. This restaurant is famous for its wings, and I can name all nine sauces they serve with them.

Stories should have a theme people can recognize, with scenes and events that support it.

3. When served in a glass, beer comes in short and tall sizes. I learned 8 of them, and know the price for each one. As I’ve never been a beer drinker, I doubt this will ever matter to me.

Including bits of information a reader might not know can add interest to a story or article, but too many useless facts can feel like homework.

4. Lemonade isn’t listed on the menu, but is available in several flavors for $2.29. This was important for me to know as I always ask for lemonade with a meal, except for breakfast.

Don’t assume readers know what you’re thinking. They may be able to infer things from the backstory you provide, but some elements need to be clear for the reader to fully enjoy your story.

5. Burgers don’t come with fries. You have to pay extra.

Some readers will feel cheated if a story doesn’t deliver what they expect or doesn’t tie up loose ends. They shouldn’t have to buy the second book in the sequel to feel satisfied with the first one.

I’ll share a few more tips on waitressing and writing when I finish the post on revisions. ;) That’s taking more time than I expected due to family matters and extra reading I’ve been doing. I’m working on 2 book reviews, and trying to get in 2,000 words each day on the new novel I’m writing. That’s going very well, much to my surprise. My goal is to finish it before October, and so far I’m staying on track. Yeah, me!

 hamburger

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What keeps you from sticking to your writing goals? What job would you want to have if you weren’t planning on being a writer? What’s the worst job you ever had, or the best? About how many words do you write on an average writing day?

 

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Everyone thinks and writes in a unique way, and there isn’t one method of writing that will perfectly fit each person’s needs. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, though, there are a few things you can do to help organize your ideas and get your first draft completed.

1. Read widely in the genre or niche in which you plan to write. Take notes on what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, how much dialog is there compared to narrative? How does the author speed up or slow down the pace to build tension? When does the first conflict appear, and is it believable? In nonfiction, how is the material organized?

2. Keep a notebook or computer file of things you see, hear, or read that are unusual, amazing, thought-provoking, or inspirational. These tidbits of life may spark ideas to use in your work, adding a unique touch to a scene or giving you an interesting angle to approach an old topic.

3. Consider making a flexible outline or storyboard before you start. Jot down key points you think should be developed, and a basic timeline. When you aren’t sure what happens at a particular spot on the timeline, simply phrase a question to show your uncertainty and list a couple of possible answers to generate ideas to work on later. Keep that information handy in case your writing feels like it’s moving off track, but if it’s moving in a better direction don’t hesitate to change your outline. It’s supposed to be a guide, not a law.

4. Set a goal of being as productive as possible whenever you sit down to write. Don’t worry about the quality when you’re working on a first draft, focus on quantity. You’ll never finish if you keep going back to revise what you’ve already written. Editing is step 2, not step 1.

An interesting idea I read about but haven’t tried is to turn off the computer monitor while you’re writing. That prevents those with no self-discipline from editing as they write. The thing that would worry me about that, though, is the possibility my fingers were not positioned correctly on the keyboard and everything I wrote might be unreadable. (That happened to me a lot in typing class my freshman year in high school.)

5. Write regularly and keep the flow going forward. Don’t skip back to change things when a better idea for a scene, character, or setting comes to mind. Just annotate the change so you can find the spot when you start revising, and write everything from that point on as if the change had taken place earlier.

6. Don’t let others read your first draft until after you reach the end. No one else will be able to steer you in the right direction until they know where you want to go. Ask for suggestions on a particular problem if necessary, but until your manuscript is complete you won’t know exactly what problems and strengths it contains. (If you’re co-authoring a book or article, this advice wouldn’t apply. Communication with the other person would be essential in that situation.)

7. Don’t give up following your dream. Most people never finish writing the first draft of a novel or nonfiction book, but some do. Be one of those who succeed.

Rather than writing a book on this topic, let me just refer you to several articles that offer advice I think is helpful:

http://hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/wc2-1.html  How to start a novel

http://www.karenmiller.net/index.cfm?page=20  Author Karen Miller on writing the first draft of a novel

http://www.storyinsight.com/techniques/creative/writing.html  Developing a rough draft

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/creative/shortstory/#tension  Tips for developing short stories

http://www.spacejock.com.au/WriteANovel.html  How to write a novel, by Simon Haynes, the developer of ywriter5 (which I use for my novels)

 

Getting ideas from head to paper.

    

 

What preparations do you make, if any, before writing a story, article, or book? Do you follow a certain formula for writing—like the Snowflake method, detailed outline, etc? How many rough drafts have you completed? How many have you started but still not finished?

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My kids have given me many gifts to treasure. One I’m appreciating this morning is a nail buffer my son got me for Christmas last year.

On the rough, dark green side, in big print that I can read without my glasses, it says ATTITUDE. Underneath that it says: ULTRA NATURAL SHINE BUFFER. Farther down it lists the instructions for each side of this handy little tool:

1. Aqua—remove ridges

2. Light green—buff

3. White—miracle shining

I have a tendency to neglect my nails, not noticing the condition they’re in until I snag something or rip the end off one. A quick trim with the clippers can improve them but it takes the 3-step buffing process to make them look their best.

 

Does Your Attitude Need Polishing?

 

The same is true with writing. We start out with the basics of an idea, but if we want to share it with others we need to remove the rough ridges by putting our thoughts down on paper and refining them into something recognizable. Then we buff that rough draft, shaping it into a coherent, interesting manuscript. The last step turns our manuscript into something special—a polished, unique expression of the original idea. Leaving out any of those 3 steps keeps that great idea from reaching its full potential.

Our attitudes toward writing will determine how much polishing we’re willing to do, and will affect whether or not we attain our goals. If we write simply to satisfy our own desire to put our thoughts on paper, we can stop at step 1. If we want to share our thoughts with others, we need to proceed at least to step 2. For us to stand out from the crowd of writers hoping to attract readers, we have to complete step 3.

Tomorrow (or the next day, depending on how long it takes to polish my idea) I’ll post some tips on how to turn an idea into a rough draft. Steps 2 and 3 will be covered in subsequent posts.

 

What do you do when you get a great idea—jot it down in a notebook, put it in a file on your computer to work on later, or start working on it immediately? What’s one of the most helpful gifts you’ve received? How’s your attitude today—rough, buffed, or brightly shining?

 

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I had a sturdy, hand-held can opener that served me well for over 15 years. Somewhere along the way my husband used it to cut some wire, and thereafter it had to be held at a slight angle to work properly. I had no trouble with that but the lefties in my household couldn’t hold it at the proper angle, and they whined for a new one.

Being human, I refused to let go of my can opener. It was pretty, functional, and completely dependable—for me. For years I continued to hold on to it, preferring the occasional whine to throwing away a perfectly good tool. This Spring, however, I fell prey to fear and uncertainty. I succumbed to self-doubt, stepped out of my comfort zone, bought a new can opener, and after trying out the new one for a few days, I put the old one in the garbage.

Why did I do it? Because my teenage daughter accused me of being a hoarder. If you’ve seen the show on A&E called Hoarders, you know that’s not a good thing to be. Hoarders hang on to everything, even trash. Their homes become hazards instead of havens. I did not want that to happen. So I gave up the “worthless” can opener for the sake of saving my family from ruin.

And now I’m sorry. That new can opener worked great for a few weeks, and then it started misbehaving. Small cans gave me big problems; big cans, too. Yesterday, I had to pry the lid off a can of tomato sauce with a knife and ended up with half the sauce on me instead of in the chili. The beans had to be scraped out of the can with a spoon because I couldn’t get the lid loose enough to pour them out.

So what’s my point?

We all have “tools” that work well for us. Other people can recommend what works best for them, or tell us about the latest trends and newest products to make life easier and our writing better. What they say may be true for them, and possibly could help us. But sometimes what’s best for one person isn’t the best for everyone. Change isn’t always for the better, and learning to discern the difference between what we are doing wrong and what works best for us is crucial.

Never change what you are doing simply because someone else tells you there’s a better way. Don’t cave in to pressure from people who see things differently. Even when there appears to be a logical reason to make the change, trust your feelings. At the very least, hang on to that old can opener until you’re sure the new one is right for you.

See full size image

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Whose advice do you listen to regarding your writing? How likely are you to make changes in a manuscript based on someone else’s opinion? Do you worry about being old-fashioned, inflexible, or a “hoarder?” What type of can opener works best for you?

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